Elephant conservation NGO EARS Asia has been ejected from Teuk Chhou Zoo in Kampot province and forbidden from caring for its two elephants, amid mounting pressure for a proposed animal swap involving the pair to be called off.
In a statement posted on their Facebook page yesterday, EARS Asia spoke of the devastation felt by founder Louise Rogerson, who has overseen the care of elephants Kiri and Seila for the past three years, after she was barred from entering the zoo on Wednesday.
The move by the zoo follows the launch of a campaign by EARS Asia in August to prevent Kiri and Seila from being swapped with animals living at the Hirakawa Zoo in southern Japan.
“This will not stop us in our campaign to bring to the world the absurdity of the Cambodian and Japanese trade deal. This also means that our campaign is working,” reads the statement.
While that campaign has been run by the EARS Asia board in Hong Kong without Rogerson’s participation, her ejection follows a series of articles in both the Cambodian and international press highlighting concerns surrounding the proposed deal.
Those concerns focus on the ability of Teuk Chhou Zoo to properly care for any new animals it receives, as well as the stress the journey would cause the animals involved.
During a visit to Teuk Chhou Zoo in late August, the Post witnessed hungry and unkempt animals, with several carrying visible injuries and many showing signs of severe psychological distress.
While Kiri and Seila had been under the care of another NGO for several months before EARS Asia arrived in 2012, they had previously been in a state of severe neglect. Since then, EARS Asia has spent more than $60,000 on their care.
“I just hope they’re not going to return to the skeleton state they were in,” said Rogerson, who has previously declined to comment on the matter. “I was literally in tears at the thought they might go hungry.”
But zoo owner Nhim Vanda yesterday suggested that he had ejected EARS Asia over its inability to provide proper care for the elephants. Teuk Chhou Zoo does not employ a veterinarian.
“This organisation lacks the medicines and other resources needed for the treatment of elephants,” he said. “We thank EARS Asia for their [past] generosity and help.”
Meanwhile, Vanda suggested Kiri and Seila would now be swapped for camels and zebra, having previously said he would be receiving white tigers and zebra.
According to Vanda, the elephants will be shipped to Japan in November, while the animals he will receive in return will likely arrive in January 2016.
A spokesman for the Hirakawa Zoo could not be reached for comment.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA